In Which Steff Tries To Talk People Out Of Bed

Steff showed up at dinner with a big duffel bag and a giant body pillow.

“I understand wanting to get the most out of your meal points,” Ian said, “but the dining hall isn’t actually open twenty-four hours.”

“Very funny,” she said. “You didn’t forget that I’m going to be using our timeshare this weekend, did you?”

The offhand way she said it… the passing reference to me as something to be used… gave me the good kind of warmth in my cheeks, but the fact that she said it without looking sideways at me with a satisfied smirk made it seem like her heart wasn’t quite in it.

“I didn’t,” Ian said. “But it looks like you’re planning on moving in.”

“Well, I kind of am… for the next few days, at least,” she said, and now she was blushing. “I mean, it’s not like when we were all in Harlowe together. I can’t just go down and over to the other side if I need something, I’d have to cross the campus in the dark.”

“Except during the day, when you’d be crossing the campus during the day,” Ian said.

“Oh, well, then I’d be taking time away from my time with Mack,” she said. “And also, I want to see what it’s like, bunking in the towers.”

“Too bad Amaranth took the bunks out of her room,” Two said.

“Two, honey, I thought we agreed that since I didn’t actually take them anywhere that isn’t in the room, then technically I didn’t take them out of the room,” Amaranth said.

“Anyway,” Steff said, “Viktor’s… working on something. So I want to give him some space for a couple of days. The pillow’s just in case the bed gets crowded.”

“You can share a twin bed with a half-ogre, but you’re worried about a real bed getting too crowded with three human-sized people?” Ian said.

“Last I checked, there were four of us in this couple,” Steff said.

“That isn’t right at all,” Two said.

“The word ‘couple’ has a margin of error of plus or minus two,” Steff said.

“Anyway, I’m looking forward to having some time to myself,” Ian said. “That, and I have two weeks’ worth of reading to catch up on in some of my classes.”

“Time together is important, but you shouldn’t ignore your homework to be with Mack,” Amaranth said.

“I wasn’t,” Ian said. “I just made an intelligent, informed, and deliberate strategic decision to put off things I didn’t want to do until it became absolutely necessary.”

“Ah, the little-used procrastination gambit,” Steff said. “A bold choice. But, you know, there’s no reason you couldn’t do your reading in Amarnath’s pleasure palace.”

“Oh, yeah… the only thing more appealing than group sex with you is doing my homework next next to you having group sex,” Ian said.

“I was thinking more like just, you know, hanging,” Steff said. “And not in the sexy sense of the word.”

“If I may broach a different topic?” Dee said.

“Anything to stop her from elaborating on the sexy sense of ‘hanging’,” Ian said.

“I have been thinking on the problem of your memories, Mackenzie.”

“I thought we weren’t going to talk about… that,” I said.

“I understand your concerns, and so I’m going to speak only in the general case until you see why I believe those concerns to be misplaced,” Dee said. “Then you may decide if you would like to continue with the precautions you have been taking.”

“Okay,” I said.

“It seems to me that the important quality of memories is that they are associative, rather than linear,” she said. “While they are not quite perfectly sorted by subject matter, if someone with access to your mind wished to know what you thought of a topic, they would do so by triggering an association for that topic, not by moving through your memories from when you woke up to when you fell asleep searching for any references to it along the way.”

“So it doesn’t matter if I have one conversation about it or five, or if it’s on my mind all the time… someone who wanted to either look up those memories or help me hide them would have the same job either way?” I asked.

“That is more or less the conclusion I have come to,” Dee said. “The… filing system… is not perfect, and neither is memory itself. If I wished to shield all the memories of a person within my head from outside prying, I might very well miss some fragmentary scraps of information… but because both I and any outside party attempting to read my mind would be relying on my associations, we would be likely to overlook the same things. The memories that escaped my search would not be as strongly tied to the subject, so it would take both diligence and creativity to uncover them, to say nothing of power and skill.”

“Dang, so all this was for nothing,” Ian said. I didn’t take his disappointment personally… he wanted so badly to be able to contribute to the cause somehow, since he couldn’t take care of me when I was alone in my mind.

“Well, not really,” I said. “Being able to put it out of my mind for the day really did help me when it came to dealing with everything else.”

“Yeah?” Ian said.

“Yeah,” I said. “And it felt good knowing my problems were in capable hands.”

“Oh, well… that’s good, then,” Ian said.

“At this point, can’t we be pretty sure that the man in question has more skill than he lets on?” Amaranth said. “I mean, if he can keep Mack asleep… it might be wrong to assume he can’t actively search her mind, just because he says he only sees what’s obvious in her mind.”

“This is true,” Dee said. “But I am inclined to believe that he has thus far relied on the sort of passive information-gathering he described. The kind of invasive scan it would take to effectively go looking for intelligence would in fact be more difficult to do from the ‘interior’ vantage point he has been using, and would be obvious to Mackenzie, as well.”

“But just because he hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean he can’t,” I said.

“You all know my opinion is to ignore what he says about everything,” Steff said. “Even trying to figure out where he’s telling the truth is playing into his hands. When you find a fixed game, you don’t keep playing to try to figure out where the fix is. You walk away.”

“Yeah, and I agree with you… but I might not have the option of ignoring him any more,” I said. “If I can’t walk away…”

“Then don’t get close enough to get caught,” Steff said. “Keep your distance. Doesn’t that make sense?”

“It does, except that in this case that would mean staying awake,” I said. “And I can’t just not sleep.”

“You’re half-demon,” Steff said. “Shouldn’t that mean you only need half the sleep of a human, or that you can go twice as long without any, or something?”

“Demons actually have about the same sleep needs as a human,” I said. “They’re immortal now, but they started out on more or less the same level as we did, in the same order of creation… other than not aging and some of the mystic stuff, they’re still basically mortal.”

“Oh,” Steff said. “Well, they do sell sleep replacement potions in the bookstore.”

“A short-term solution at best,” Dee said. “I have tried such preparations and found them somewhat wanting.”

I’d never been one for staying up all night… even when I’d been caught up in reading something, my grandmother had always made sure that I didn’t have books or anything with me in my bed. But I could actually see missing a few nights’ sleep as a viable solution. I’d have to go to bed Sunday night to have a chance of functioning normally in class on Monday, but that gave two more days for my plan to take effect and for my problem to solve itself through external means.

And the exact merits of the plan aside, there was something unusually insistent about Steff’s advocacy for it. She could be quite firm in pursuing something she wanted, pun fully intended… but when she’d ventured her opinion about my father’s character and how best to deal with him before, it had always sounded more like an opinion.

Her urgency now made me wonder if she felt upstaged by Ian.

It would be somewhat unusual for her. Despite their bantering… and bickering… Steff and Ian had never really had much jealousy in their dynamic. It had taken Ian a while to come around to the idea of not being the only penis-bearing-person in my life, but even that was probably more squick than anything like possessiveness.

Steff and Ian would both put themselves forward if they felt like they were being left behind, but… well, maybe that was it. Maybe Steff felt that in allowing Ian to be my liaison to the rest of the group… including her… I was somehow freezing her out.

“A couple of days of not having to worry about it would be a good thing,” I said. “The only downside I can see is that I can’t communicate with the owl-turtle thing without going to sleep.”

“So take a quick nap,” Steff said quickly. If she felt at all placated by my words, it didn’t show. “That’ll just make it easier to stay up.”

“Uh, my experience with all-nighters is that going to sleep long enough to actually have dreams and stuff just makes you more tired when you wake up,” Ian said. “A little power nap is one thing, but once you hit a certain point it’s like you’re rolling downhill and it’s easier to just ride to the bottom than stop.”

“That is an accurate and somewhat evocative description,” Dee said. “Sleep is a cycle that has its own momentum. You ignore or tamper with it at your own peril.”

“Says the girl who hypnotized herself into eternal slumber last year,” Steff said.

“We have all done things that were less than wise,” Dee said. “In any event, it is on the basis of such experiences that I now speak.”

“Okay, but, Mack… you don’t need to talk to the birtle guy if you’re not going to be sleeping anyway, right?” Steff said.

“Well, I suppose that’s true,” I said. “But… if I stay up for two nights in a row, that gives the man more time to get ready for when I fall asleep, and more time to get impatient or desperate. I can’t keep him out, and if i put it off I might not have a chance to say or do anything meaningful before he pounces.”

“That might happen if you go to sleep tonight,” Steff said. “Did he seem to be in a patient mood the last time you saw him? Staying awake gives you two more days to get ready, to figure out how to deal with him.”

“You know, if you want more time with Mackenzie, you can tell her,” Ian said. “I really do understand the ‘when is my turn?’ thing…”

“You think that’s what this is about?” Steff asked.

“You’re the one who said you don’t want to waste any time this weekend,” Ian said.

“Okay, so I’m willing to stay up with her if it helps her,” Steff said. “Is that entirely a hardship? No… though it does have some downsides. I mean, maybe a lot of my original plans for the weekend include things that would wear her out, or would work better if we were both well-rested. But I’m prepared to pace myself if it means keeping her from stumbling into a trap she could avoid just by keeping her eyes open.”

“Hey, guys… chill,” I said. “Steff, I don’t really know if I could stay awake all weekend, and I think trying and failing might leave me in worse shape than just sleeping normally. I mean, I think an exhausted mind would probably be more vulnerable and less coherent.”

“This is something else that I can say from experience is true,” Dee said.

“And I really do want a chance to talk to the owl-turtle thing,” I said.

“Why?” Steff said. “I thought your plan right now was to learn about lucid dreaming. What can it teach you about that? And couldn’t you learn better when you’re awake and can’t be interrupted by surprise guest appearances? Dee’s right on the other side of the wall… she could come over and, I don’t know, guide your meditation or something.”

“I am perhaps not the best instructor on the subject of controlling dreams,” Dee said.

“Then what’s the owl-turtle thing going to be able to tell Mack?”

“Steff…” Dee said.

“What?” Steff said.

“You do realize that even if Mackenzie falls asleep, you do not need to do the same?”

I had a moment of wondering what the hell she was talking about, but then I looked at Steff and realized that whether she’d meant it as an attack or not, Dee had scored a direct hit. Steff recovered quickly.

“We’re not talking about me,” Steff said. “Why would I be afraid of falling asleep?”

“I did not mention fear,” Dee said. “But you seem peculiarly fixated on the idea of Mackenzie staying awake, irrespective of the actual benefits and drawbacks of such a plan. Since you are also offering to…”

“You should really learn to stay out of people’s heads,” Steff said.

“This is merely deduction,” Dee said. “I apologize for giving you the impression that I…”

“Steff… is everything okay with you?” Amaranth asked.

“Why is everyone so interested in me all of a sudden?” Steff said. “Mack’s got real problems. She’s got a demon in her dreams and complicated relationships and classes she needs to ace. I’m just… you know, I don’t even care about stuff, so if I did have a problem, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

I wanted to tell her that we of all people knew that wasn’t true and she didn’t need to put on a carefree facade in front of us… but whatever was going on in her life, apparently she did feel the need for the facade and nothing I could say at that moment was going to convince her otherwise.

If anything, it might drive her away in order to keep the act up… and now that I was looking at what she’d been saying with the understanding that it was as much about her needs as anything else, it was obvious that what she really wanted was to not be around.

“Steff’s right,” I said. “I mean, she has the right idea… let’s not be so serious about everything. It’s the weekend, classes are over, we’ve got nothing but time to spend with each other. Let’s just do that and see where things goes. Why be in a hurry to go to bed when we don’t have to get up any particular time?”

“What the hell,” Ian said. “I guess I can do my reading when you guys are all doing your shopping extravaganza.”

“I don’t even need to sleep,” Amaranth said. “I mean, not in the sense that the rest of you need it… so I can hang out and keep… anyone company if other people need some sleep.”

“I probably am going to need to sleep,” I said. “If not tonight, then tomorrow.”

“Oh, well, yeah, if you need to, you need to,” Steff said. She shrugged. “It was just an idea I had.”

The nonchalance seemed unforced now… whatever was eating at Steff, she was less worried about it in the face of the support of her friends, even as we all were less-than-obvious in pretending that nothing was wrong.

As dysfunctional as it was, it would work in the short term, and maybe that would give her the peace of mind she needed to come clean about it.

In the meantime, I didn’t resent her having problems at the same time that I did… it was actually nice to be able to show my concern for her, and to have everyone rallying around her a bit. In fact, I could better understand how Ian felt about his need to be there for me.

It wasn’t just that it helped me take my mind off my own problems… it was just nice to know that my life wasn’t so messed up that I couldn’t help out a friend.


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27 Responses to “Chapter 77: Wake-Up Call”

  1. Zathras IX says:

    The word ‘couple’ has
    A margin of error of
    Plus or minus ŦΨØ

    Current score: 5
  2. anon y mouse says:

    “I can’t keep him out, and if i put it off I might not have a chance to say or do anything meaningful before he pounces.” – capitalize second I.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      “Oh, yeah… the only thing more appealing than group sex with you is doing my homework next next to you having group sex,” Ian said.

      Double “next” in this sentence.

      Current score: 0
      • Texan Steer says:

        “do your reading in Amarnath’s pleasure palace”

        Amarnath ought to be Amaranth, I believe.

        Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        wouldn’t this be a case of Ian sticking his next out here?

        Current score: 0
  3. Matt Doyle says:

    Oh, Steff.

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      We really haven’t had enough of Steff lately.

      I wonder what’s eating her?

      Current score: 0
      • TLOU says:

        Viktor? if he eats human flesh I get he would Eat Half-elf….

        Current score: 0
        • Zergonapal says:

          Ogres are the great omnivore, they eat everything with no preference besides volume.

          Current score: 0
      • Laurie says:

        It’s coming up on a year since her encounter with Leda at the fountain. That could be it. For most victims of sexual violence, it can be harder to to either deal with or ignore the memories around the time of the year that it happened. Or it could be something else entirely.

        Current score: 0
  4. AmyAmethyst says:

    “It wasn’t just that it helped me take my mind off my own problems… it was just nice to know that my life wasn’t so messed up that I couldn’t help out a friend.”

    I love this part because I know that feeling.

    Current score: 0
  5. Whataslacker says:

    So glad to see the rest of the gang. We need more group adventures. While I understand the need to complete the story arch about her father, I miss everyone else while we spend so much time in Mack’s head.

    Current score: 0
  6. William Carr says:

    I realize it wouldn’t go over well…

    But suppose Mackenzie got into a box, wrapped up in a quilt, and then Amaranth blessed the outside of the box, including the top, sides, and bottom.

    Now, Mac is surrounded by blessed matter.

    Wouldn’t that make it rather difficult for her Father to invade her sleeping mind?

    The question is, could Amaranth’s Blessing carry over to the Dream Plane?

    Current score: 0
    • mafidufa says:

      I don’t think mack would go for that after what happened the last time she was stuck on the wrong side of divine energy, even iff it is amaranth doing it this time.

      Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      That could be interesting, about like having her sleep inside a circle of protection – maybe Dee could do that. Again though, the question is will it carry to the dream plane, or would a dream state visit be needed to set and break one in that plane for it to have a chance at working. The…issues this could lead to could be interesting.

      Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      If my understanding of The ToMU canon is correct, there is no such thing as the “Dream Plane”. Also that Divine energies are dissipated or neutralized by exposure to profane activities.

      Amaranth maintains her divine essence between biological functions and channeling her Mother Goddess’s continuous download of blessings.

      Blessing an inanimate object with Divine energy such as the sleeping-compartment, whatever protection possible would quickly be exhausted by Mackenzie’s sex dreams and REM sleep masturbation.

      If Amaranth, with all her innate divine protection could be {temporarily} possessed and/or entranced by demonic confusion, I would suspect that advanced infernal methods may, sometimes, outmatch/outwit divine methods.

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        I really don’t think that the blessings of a nymph of all things would be reduced by dreams of sex.

        I agree that her ability to protect Mackenzie is probably not great, however, given that she was possessed by the Pitchfork, but I don’t think that speaks to Divinity’s ability to subdue Infernal so much as Amaranth’s.

        Current score: 0
        • pedestrian says:

          Lyssa, good points.

          I am theorizing, from jumbled memories of previous usage of divine blessings in ToMU, that mundane profane acts do dissipate the blessings. And it’s not so much a case of the act of sexual behavior as who was committing the act.

          To wit, every and any consensual sexual activity committed by Amaranth {or insert here, your favorite horny divinity}{yeah, aren’t I a coyote scamp}, is Divinely permissible by the definition that the entity of Cereal Nymph is Divine.

          But, that the same activity by an Infernal entity{again insert….sorry I gotta stop flogging that pun} would be profane.

          These definitions, are of course, the winners writing the history books, on behalf of the losers. “Carthaginem esse delendum!”

          Current score: 0
          • Lyssa says:

            Ha!

            I’m not sure I agree, but that is certainly well reasoned.

            Current score: 0
      • Author_Unknown says:

        There is the instance of when Mack spent the night in the healing center, the door was blessed for the duration of the night, and didn’t dissipate as they had to get someone to come remove it. Also the pens there as well. Granted it was a different deity, but the principle holds. There is also the idea of holy water, though that technically has living things in it.

        Though I think the only person that would be hurt by sticking Mack in a blessed box would be Mack herself.

        Current score: 0
        • pedestrian says:

          Now I remember. There was the previous event {when Mackenzie first went to the medical center about starting her period early}, that the holy nut hid in the restroom and warded it with divine shielding.

          I think it was Lynette? who suggested having Steff come in and desecrate the scene to render it safe for Mack. Now the fastest way my limited imagination comes up with would be to have her masturbate on the doorway. A useful function for her penis.

          Wow, i just realized. That before I began reading Tales of MU a few months ago, in my six decades proceeding I would never had used or even imagined using a phrase such as “her penis”.

          Current score: 1
  7. Rafinius says:

    Huh? I am confused. Did Dee make mack forget something on purpose? When? What? Why? I really can’t remember something like that…

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      I think the implication is that whatever “subtle arts” or divine intervention Dee and Amy and anyone else involved are planning, they are NOT to tell Our Mack so that Demon Daddy cannot access/gain warning/pre-empt defend against their efforts.

      Classical cell structure, limiting access to strategic plans and tactical maneuvers, when you know your organization has been compromised by an enemy.

      Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      The ROTT ‘masked’ some things in her memory for her, but things of that nature that it knows how to do are likely coming from things that Dee knows so in a sense yes, but no. It is only a couple chapters back so should be easy to find for a refresher. Essentially the ROTT kinda brushed away some of the tracks and put up blinds to try to help hide the fact that Mack has set the wheels in motion to set Martha to knowing more about who Mack daddy is and letting the big bad granny paladin spank daddy.

      Current score: 1